‘A pretty rough Tour’: Alaska cyclist battles COVID and crashes in Tour de France Femmes

Tour de France Women

It most certainly wasn’t Kristen Faulkner’s dream ride.

But the cyclist who grew up in Homer hopes her first run at the Tour de France Femmes will act as a rough draft for a future masterwork in the race.

Faulkner batted COVID and crashes, placing 40th overall in the Tour, which organizers hope will be a new tradition — a women’s stage race that will run parallel in pomp and popularity to the historic men’s Tour de France.

HORIZONTAL white space Kristen Faulkner Homer cyclist Tour de France Femmes

“I had a pretty rough Tour,” she said. “I think I tested negative the first day of the tour, but I had it up until then and then I had the three crashes. So it was pretty hard for me, but my goal at that point was just to finish because my body was pretty worn out.

“So it wasn’t a Tour that I was like hoping for, but yeah, I’m so happy I was able to do it and finish. But yeah, a bit of a bummer with the whole COVID and crashes and things.”

Tour de France Women

Faulkner had taken the captain mantle for Team BikeExchange-Jayco for the race.

She was involved in a major crash during Stage 2 of the race and was part of a doozy in Stage 5 that swallowed up a large swath of the field.

“Both of those were really big and I just happened to be right behind them,” she said. “I was at the bottom of the pile. So I had bikes on my head, bikes on my legs, bikes all over me. And then took a few minutes for me to actually be able to like, stand up and just get out because there was so many people on top of me.”

She’d been in crashes before but said that riders were going aggressively after the victory in the Tour, upping the level of risk.

“It was a little bit more dangerous with some of these stages because the stakes are so high and we’re willing to take more risks,” she said.

Faulkner said the race has already set standards for media coverage and public interest, and raised the bar for competitors, teams and race organizers.

“The first thing is I just think we’ll have more people tuning in over the following years,” she said. “The second thing, it also forces other races to step up because they’re no longer the biggest races on the calendar. ... The third thing is it’ll just force teams and riders to also step up because now they’re in the spotlight in a way that they never were before. So the stakes are much higher. And riders are now competing for much more.”

Tour de France Women

Faulkner’s best stage finish was 11th place in the third stage, and she placed 25th in the fourth stage. But she said she wore down as the race went on and her bout with COVID meant her recovery was slower from stage to stage.

“Early on, I actually felt really strong and I felt like I was performing pretty well considering the circumstances,” she said. “And so now I know what the Tour is and I know how it’s played, how it’s raced and how to prepare for it.

“Next year, I can come back even stronger and have a shot at winning or a podium. So that’ll be a big goal of mine for next year.”

Chris Bieri

Chris Bieri is the sports and entertainment editor at the Anchorage Daily News.